At the turn of the new year, while politicians are still on vacation, along with the headlines they generate, we are mostly told of tragedies: thirteen coal miners trapped far below the surface of the ground in West Virginia, a dozen people pinned beneath the collapsed roof of a skating rink in Germany. Two New York City police officers shot two days apart, two New Jersey officers killed when their squad car went off a bridge in the dark. It is these serendipitous, wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time tragedies that catch our attention in these first days of 2006, not the old ones to which we've become accustomed. Not the ongoing grind of casualties in Iraq, of ongoing suffering in the Gulf coast, in Pakistan and Kashmir. Not AIDS in Africa. Not the ones we know about -- new, unexpected ones.
We remember such things, years later. We remember the fire at the Happy Land Social Club, the one at that club in Rhode Island -- what was the name of that club? And the time all those young people were lost at Interlaken -- was that in 1999? Coal miners and cops are experts, very aware of the dangers of their work. The kids at Interlaken were excited novices; they didn't know of the danger of their extreme adventure -- probably didn't even ask. And the skaters, the people dancing and laughing at the social clubs? They were just having fun.
Sad news that sticks in your mind -- Jesus mentions one such event in a sermon: a tower collapsed in the waterworks at Siloam and eighteen people were killed. We don't hear about it anywhere else, and he doesn't elaborate -- he doesn't have to. Everyone had heard about it, like we all heard about the trapped coal miners last night.
Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, he said, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? (Luke 13:4) Well, no. But at the turn of the year, we try hard to make meaning of the things that happen. We hope the new year will be better; let's see if we can understand the hazards of life, and perhaps we'll be able to ward them off. And sometimes we can. But someday we may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that will be all the meaning available.
Your death may not have much in the way of meaning, so you'd best make sure your life does. Is everything I'm doing something I'd be content to leave behind in the memories of those who love me as my last act? Can I afford to be cut off this very day -- have I spent enough of myself in it to make it a worthy epitaph? Because if it would make a decent tombstone, it will also make a pretty good day.
Debbie Loeb, the famous HodgePodge proprietress, is looking for recipes from your New Year's party to go with the ones from ours on the Farm. Go to Hodgepodge at http://geraniumfarmhodgepodge.blogspot.com/
Speaking of food, have you been wondering where on earth the Geranium Farm's cookbook is? It's at Church Publishing, which says it will be out in June. Stay tuned.